A few months ago, I posted a special article for all you renting novices out there about how to get your security deposit back in full.
So, what happens if you feel you’ve followed all those steps, and your Landlord still stiffs you?
As long as you have performed your obligations and upheld your part of the lease contract, you have specific legal rights when it comes to your security deposit. Those rights vary from state to state.
The below points will apply directly to Texas, which is where I currently live, so check your state to be sure of your specific legal rights. However, most states have the same or very similar laws to protect you.
What to do if your landlord doesn’t refund your deposit
Your next step will typically begin with one of the two following scenarios:
Situation 1: You received a move-out statement, but you don’t agree with the charges.
The Landlord cannot apply any part of your deposit toward items that are normal wear and tear, but can still apply it to any outstanding balances as well as damages to the rental unit, and any previously agreed upon move out charges (things you may have signed for way back in the beginning when the sky was sunny and you were moving into your new home).
If you do not agree with the charges on your statement and have some type of proof to back up your belief, most Landlords and management companies have a procedure you need to follow for filing a dispute.
Gather together any documentation or proof you have and file your dispute as soon as possible. If they don’t have an official process, you still need to file a written dispute as quickly as you can.
Be sure to describe why you feel the charge is wrong, include copies of any documentation you have, and include your return contact information.
I recommend sending this letter by certified, return-receipt mail, and sending it to both the local office and to the corporate office if there is one. Now, the 30-day wait starts over again.
Now, the 30-day wait starts over again….
Situation 2: You didn’t receive a refund and/or any kind of statement from your previous landlord.
The Landlord has a legal obligation to send you a written statement that details and includes either your full refund of your deposit or a partial refund and details about the charges that the remainder was applied to.
This statement is required to be postmarked no later than the 30th day after you have surrendered the premises.
What you should do if you did not receive your move-out statement or deposit refund at all:
1. Verify you have waited the full length of time that is allowed to the Landlord.
In Texas, 30 days plus standard mailing time, so typically 37 days, maximum.
2. Contact the landlord by phone.
Notify them you have not received your statement or refund and document what was said, the time you called, and who you spoke with. Verify what address they mailed it to (they are required to mail it to the forwarding address you provided to them, or if you did not give them one, to your last known address, which would be your old address when you rented from them).
3. Think about pursuing damages.
If you cannot get in touch with the landlord or get the run-around, you have legal rights at this point, but you will have to put in some work to pursue them. Just be sure you’ve done your due diligence in trying to contact the Landlord to verify whether they have mailed you out a statement or not.
If NO statement was mailed at all, or if it was mailed LATE, then the Landlord is considered to have acted in bad faith, and you can pursue damages!
4. Sue your Landlord.
In Texas, you do not need to hire an attorney to sue your Landlord in Small Claims Court, but people often do just so they are more comfortable having a professional represent them.
The good news? If you win your case, the court will typically require the Landlord to pay ‘reasonable’ attorney fees and court costs back to you.
The bad news? 1) You have to cover your expenses up front, and 2) if you lose, you’re out that money. Be sure you have a rock-solid case before filing!
5. Be prepared and ready for court.
Subpoena any witnesses on your behalf, have any documents you wish to present and any color photographs ready, printed on larger paper, with copies for the Judge and the Defendant (Landlord).
Go through your lease contract carefully, highlighting any passages that apply to your situation. Make a copy for both the judge and the Defendant.
Print out Title 8, Chapter 92 of the Texas Property Code. Most of the items you need will be under Subchapter C – Security Deposits. Go through an highlight all applicable sections. Make a copy for both the Judge and the Defendant.
Present your case clearly and concisely. Keep your voice calm and whatever you do, do not shout or argue in court – especially not with the Judge! Professionalism and respect go a long way with Judges!
A lot of people either don’t know their rights, or choose not to pursue them, but if you are truly in the right, it can really pay off in the end.
The Benefits of Taking Your Landlord to Court
If a Landlord is found to be in violation of the refund statutes, the law states you can be awarded $100, plus an amount equal to three times the portion of the deposit that was wrongfully withheld, plus any ‘reasonable’ attorney’s fees and court costs.
Most importantly, you regain the right to a good rental reference, without which, you could have a difficult time renting in the future.
As with anything in life, there are gray areas and disclaimers to these types of scenarios, so be sure to review the laws in your area and consult an attorney.
This guide presents solutions for those of you who have squarely followed the rules and laws, but leases can be written differently, and there are clauses protecting Landlords in some scenarios as well.
If you’d like a handy printable checklist with this information on it, as well as other helpful moving tips, sign up below:
Not sure where to find out the information you need for the state where you live? Start by just simply googling things like “tenant rights (your state name) “ and see what pops up.